Why Liberalism is Confused

Ross Douthat, guestblogging over at AndrewSullivan.com, provides a fresh (at least to me) perspective on the fundamental problem with contemporary liberalism…

The original aim of the liberal philosophers was to remove the “high” questions, the important-but-unresolvable questions – what is virtue? is Jesus Christ the Son of God? where do we go when we die? etc. – from the political realm, where they had caused so much trouble, and into the private and personal sphere. Politics henceforth would focus on lower matters, and be more peacable because of it. The difficulty, of course, is that over time liberalism lost sight of the fact that the high questions are high, and the low questions low, and came to believe that because everyone could agree, say, that you should respect your neighbor’s property and avoid killing your enemy whenever possible, these were the most important questions facing humanity, and nobody – not even essayists and intellectuals – should sweat the other, harder-to-answer stuff. In early liberalism, governments weren’t supposed to take positions on Christ’s divinity, because the question was too important to be adjudicated by the state; in late liberalism, writers for the Times Book Review aren’t supposed to take positions on Christ’s divinity, because the question isn’t important enough to worry over.

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